2012 Audi A8 L: Audi-O Impressions
March 12, 2012
$6,300 is a lot of money. That's what I'd expect to pay for a decent used car or one helluva vacation. But six-grand for a stereo upgrade? Color me skeptical.
Full disclosure: I have never been a big fan of Bang & Olufsen. In terms of design, I thought their home products were amazing feats of packaging, but the sound quality never lived up to the appearance. Also, I'm not a true audiophile or mobile electronics expert, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Alright, let's start from the base stereo, which is a 14-speaker Bose system that puts out 630 watts. Our long-term A8 is packed with the $6,300 Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System with 19 speakers and 1,400 watts. I'm guessing right off the bat that the base Bose system will do just fine for the vast majority of drivers, but for the rare individual who can discern the differences, perhaps the B&O would be worth it. After all, the starting price for an A8 L is $84,700, so maybe another seven-percent added to the bottom line isn't such a big deal.
When I go about testing an audio system, I start by leveling-out the bass, treble and centering the balance and fader. Unlike the pros, I go straight to the iPhone, since I think most drivers prefer mobile devices to CDs (at least for convenience's sake). I then cue-up John Williams' Olympic Fanfare and Theme, which is my personal test track.
Wow. The brass fanfare was incredibly clear and when the trumpets take off on their own, the pop-up tweeters allow them to sing without any detectable distortion. The same holds true when the thundering tympanis bellow through the cabin, and you can feel each hit in your chest. Good stuff.I played around with the Digital Signal Processing (DSP), which allows you to alter the staging to favor all seats, rear seats or the fronts (which was my preferred setting). With my eyes closed (parked, duh) it sounded as though the sound was emanating from an arms-length away and enveloped me fully.
On the highway, the A8's crypt-quiet cabin allows the sound system to shine, too. You'd have to struggle to hear any intrusion from road, wind or engine noise. And this, at least to me, is just as important as the speakers and system. So yes, the B&O system is quite impressive.
I'm also a fan of the controls and displays. The main screen is tack-sharp and getting around the menus is intuitive and easy. I'd still prefer the MMI controller to be centered in front of the armrest, but this isn't a deal-breaker. The buttons and knobs have a solid feel and a positive click when pressed. I also appreciate that when you spin the wheel quickly, the display skips forward through the list so you don't have to turn for an eternity. Finding Paul McCartney among the artists menu took only about seven seconds.
After years of using Audi's click-wheel controls on the steering wheel, I'm still not sold on it. I like leaving the iPod on shuffle and skip over the songs I don't want to hear. With the A8, you have to roll the wheel down one detent then click it. I know, it's not the end of the world, but I'd rather have a standard skip button on the steering wheel. Then again, I can see how having the ability to scroll through songs while viewing the tracks on the instrument panel might appeal to some.
And let's not forget the cool factor of the pop-up tweeters on the dash. So cool, in fact, that I thought it fitting to give them their own video.
The ovoid disc atop the stalk serves to bounce the sound in a controlled spread. I have something similar to this in my Mirage Nanosat home theatre system speakers, and they're quite effective.
So there it is; a layman's take on our long-term Audi's $6,300 audio system (I just had to mention that price one more time). Is it worth it? Well, that depends on how much value you place on audio quality.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 10,693 miles